Ethos of the TPU Tribe

Ethos of the TPU Tribe

TPU2017 Finisher Rachael Kadell celebrating at Disney Land.

We’ve all got enough race shirts to supply Goodwill for a decade, so what makes this particular shirt from Trans-Pecos Ultra so special?

It’s not the shirt…it’s the “Tribe”.

Of course, the TPU Tribe exists with or without the shirt, but the shirt is a great reminder of our shared experience.

Once you’ve spent a week in Big Bend, living simple, and unplugged from the outside world, you become connected in many ways to the land and those across the campfire from you. But why?

For ten days, those of us who volunteer and race in TPU experience life with a shared purpose. We sleep side by side in tepee tents, we wake up together at 6am, eat, pack our bags and perform our assigned volunteer duties – or “follow the pink tape” as a racer. The highs and lows of each day are shared with those around us at checkpoints, campsites, and on long bumpy drives.


Leslie Townsend (mom) and Elizabeth Henderson (sister) to RD Chris Herrera (middle).


Those who participate and volunteer year after year at TPU become a tight-knit group who have seen each other’s flaws, forgiven them, and have continued to have faith in each other and TPU, knowing it’s something much larger than just themselves. In so many ways, the TPU Tribe represents family, beginning with the Race Director, Chris Herrera, whose family help him put on the first race, and who come back to volunteer each year.

And pictured in the feature/top image are April, event coordinator, and her husband, “utility player,” Jake McAnally, who’ve been involved since the beginning. These two open their home to so many – from Alpine Cowboys baseball players each summer, to RD Chris who lived with them upon first arrival in Alpine. And for those who don’t know, TPUHQ is actually the McAnally’s house; just go down to the basement and you’ll find blue water containers, tepee tents, and everything in between, like portable toilets (by the way, we don’t use those anymore since we’ve got awesome camp sites with actual toilets and even a pool!)


Alpine local sisters – Elise (racer) and Sarah (volunteer ) Sibley at Tres Papalotes campsite.


Sure enough, every year, we have families in the lineup – brothers, sisters, and several married couples. So It not only feels like family; in many cases, it is family.

And all this happens in one of the most remote and rarely visited locations in the country. Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest state park in Texas, and offers outdoor recreation for the truly adventurous. The interior roads of the park are not even passable without four-wheel drive.  It’s a great big rugged expanse, and when TPU comes in October, we have the place mostly to ourselves.  That isolation draws us all closer, racers and volunteers alike. As RD Chris Herrera observes…

“Being outdoors can be one of the most powerful environments for personal discovery”.

TPU2017 racers, best friends, Rachael Kadell & Shelli Sexton from California.


So who is the TPU Tribe?

We are people just like you… hikers, runners, and everything in between – 4×4 enthusiasts, medics, Ironman triathletes, academics, accountants, etc. The life experience among the TPU Tribe is widely varied, almost random, but it makes this event what it is.

Our tribe truly values Big Bend, a place like no other. We love camping under the bright stars, we love how campfires bring out the inner storyteller in us, we love sleeping overnight in Fresno canyon. We love the way the outdoors provides solace from everyday life and how a week in Big Bend gives us time for reflection, to recharge, and how we leave the place a bit more purposeful, more intentional about our lives.  It’s an experience we want to share with others, both within the Tribe and in our personal communities outside TPU.

TPU2017 finish with Clay Henry III (goat), Mayor of Lajitas, TX.


Simplicity, humility, and compassion….that’s what TPU and the Tribe represent. And, that’s why this is a shirt so much worth earning.


To join the Tribe, learn about Volunteer spots, see our Course Info & Rules to become a racer, or call the RD, Chris Herrera at 432.294.5284.SaveSave





TPU2017 Summary Report

TPU2017 Summary Report

TPU2017 Had It All!

Live GPS Tracking…

New Course Record Set…

Temps from the 90s to 30s…

More International Players…

Trans-Pecos Ultra has struck the tents for another year!  The third annual race, according to racers and volunteers alike, was the best ever, all the details smoothly dialed in. From live, daily updates on social media to the full 10-day schedule of events with regional tours and chef-produced gourmet meals, TPU2017 lived up to its name – The Ultimate Big Bend Adventure. Also this year, race director Chris Herrera, brought another first to the US self-supported stage race community…Live GPS tracking – see archive link!


Among the runners, Adam Harmon, of Boulder, Colorado, ran out front from Day 1 and ended up shattering the course record by 4-1/2 hours, a huge chunk out of the record set last year.  Adam had lately completed the Leadville 100, one of trail racing’s most challenging events.

The female champion, Sereena Trottier of Ottawa, Canada, also led from the beginning.  Sereena is a veteran of many Canadian ultra races, and directs a few races of her own as a principal of 3badgers Racing. 

TPU2017 international cast of characters included racers and volunteers from Great Britain, Canada, France, and Czech Republic, as well as the USA.

The terrain of Big Bend Ranch State Park, coined the “Other side of nowhere”, is extremely rugged and always challenging, but the temperatures this year added a few degrees of difficulty.  Several days had registered temps in the low 90s, but there was also a morning when racers woke up to temps in the low 30s.  The extreme changes in temperature can wreak havoc in muscle function.

The racers included many hikers who continued to persevere through blisters, joint pain, and sheer fatigue. TPU is unique it that it brings experienced ultra runners together with thru-hikers in one event. See the Results Page for accumulated timings.

This year were a cheerful bunch, full of enthusiasm for the rugged beauty of Big Bend.  There was a race-ending slip and fall on the first day for one runner, and a lot of foot-taping for blisters as the week drew on, but no major injuries.  Our fully-credentialed team of medics gave expert advice and care, staffing every checkpoint on the course, and sweeping behind the last runner  – something we learned was a unique offering among other ultra events and “much appreciated”, said Shelli, an experienced ultra runner from California.

The staff and volunteers of TPU were elated for the runners who enjoyed the race so much and accomplished their audacious goals in Big Bend Ranch State Park.  We look forward to showcasing the rugged beauty of Big Bend Ranch State Park to a whole new crew of runners, hikers, and volunteers in 2018. Join us next year for The Ultimate Big Bend Adventure!


CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE FINISHERS. And a special shout out to our TPU2017 partners: Trackleaders.comTrail Toes Anti-Friction Foot and Body ProductsCity of AlpineAlpine Chamber of CommerceAlpine AvalancheVisit Big BendCome and Take It BBQMuseum of the Big BendMcDonald ObservatoryThe Holland HotelQuarter Circle 7 Hotel – AlpineBig Bend Brewing CompanyBig Bend Ranch State Park-Texas Parks and WildlifeTexas Parks and WildlifeUNM Wilderness, Austere, and International Emergency Medicine FellowshipPrintcoSaddle Club AlpineAlpine Auto Rental & all the volunteers, medics, and family who supported us.


TPU2018 Race Registration Opens Dec 15th!









2017 Racer Profiles – Adam Harmon

2017 Racer Profiles – Adam Harmon

Meet Adam Harmon 

“Getting His Feet Wet”


Adam Harmon comes to TPU this year, fresh off a Leadville 100 25-hour finish.  And that wasn’t his first rodeo; he’s got a couple of other hundos in the bank, and multiple years at Leadville, one of the sport’s most challenging events. You might say his feet are already pretty soaked. But this seasoned veteran ultra runner has his eye on the longer, expedition stage races as a next step.

He wants to see how the self-supported stage race format works for him, so he’s getting his feet wet in the high, dry desert of Big Bend Ranch, at TPU.

Some of his past favorite races have been the Bighorn 100 in Wyoming and Desert Rats 50 in Colorado.  He’s clearly an enthusiast of the desert high country, and Big Bend Ranch seems made-to-order for him.

With Leadville having just concluded in August, Adam has mostly been in recovery mode lately.  He reports that he’s feeling great, and his only concern is that he maybe didn’t spend enough time with full pack on his training runs.

TPU kicks off Sunday morning with the first of 4 daily marathons, followed on Thursday by a 56-miler.  It’s a very long haul, with advantage to those who can manage nutrition and hydration well during the day, and recovery at night.  Adam’s focus will be to not go out too fast, a habit he has learned to rue.

In Boulder, Colorado, Adam coordinates marketing for local bike shops and also operates Rocky Mountain Ultra, an online retailer that brings European ultra and adventure gear to the American market. At 28, he’s already got his life centered around the things that are dear to his heart.

Best of luck to Adam as he gets his feet wet in expedition stage racing next week.  (Note to Adam: there’s a stock tank at Camp 2, and you can get your whole body wet.)

“LIKE” us on Facebook to get race reports from the trail and keep up with Adam’s newest adventure.

2017 Racer Profiles – Sereena Trottier

2017 Racer Profiles – Sereena Trottier

Meet Sereena Trottier

“Living the Dream”


Sereena arrives at TPU 2017 on a “golden ticket.” She entered a contest sponsored by Trail Runner magazine for the best story of motivation, and won an entry into this year’s race.

Her dream-chasing story focused around her decision to leave her day job as a financial professional and find the things that could make her heart sing.  It was a terrifying transition, not know what was ahead, but she followed the urge to seek bigger and better opportunities.  And she found them.

She happened to encounter Ray Zahab, a noted Canadian ultrarunner, adventurer and what some might call an “extreme athlete.”  Ray was looking for volunteer help producing his own race, the Bad Beaver Ultra, and bam! Sereena ended up a race director. Their organization, (Mat Lefèvre is the third beaver), now produces a set of races highlighting the spectacular Gatineau Park of Canada.

As well as this transition has turned out for her, it’s all still quite new and dazzling.  Sereena is looking forward to seven days of reflection in the desert, and settling into her self during TPU.

Sereena with her mother

Sereena has completed multiple Ironman triathlons, 2-day Canadian Ski Marathons and other marathon and ultra running events.

Ray has been her coach for TPU training, and Sereena reports that she is ready to go.  Injuries have been minimal and her biggest challenge preparing for TPU has been finding the right pack.  After trying several, and finding that what worked like a magic charm for one runner didn’t necessarily work for her, she settled on the UltrAspire Epic vest/pack.

Sereena’s two concerns about the upcoming week are: the Texas heat, a very different climate than she’s accustomed to in Ottawa, and her sleep at night in camp.  As a veteran of other overnight events, she has encountered sleep issues before.  In TPU’s homey Sibley tents, with the billions of stars outside, and the murmur of volunteer voices as they prepare camp for the following day, we hope Sereena will be lulled into the most peaceful rest each night.



“LIKE” us on Facebook to get race reports next week and keep up with Sereena’s dream.


2017 Racer Profiles – Jonathan Culling

2017 Racer Profiles – Jonathan Culling

Jonathan Culling 

“Testing Myself”


Jonathon Culling of Austin, Texas describes himself as “not-necessarily-a-runner,” which is fine because TPU is not necessarily a running event.  For some, it’s mostly a hike, and since the cutoff times are very generous (12 hours to complete a marathon distance) and there’s nothing to do on the trail but enjoy existence, a leisurely pace is completely reasonable.

Jonathan has, in fact, completed a number of trail races, from 10K to 25K, so he’s not a complete newbie.  Road running never resonated with him, but adventure, trails and deserts do.  He’d been reading about the 4Desert series in China, Chile, Namibia and Antarctica, and found he could test himself in that environment a lot closer to home.  6 hours away, in fact, in Big Bend.

Testing his limits is Jonathan’s motivation for such endurance feats.  He wants to know what he has inside, to push against his mental limits and discover how far he can go.  As he has been preparing, he’s been catching up on running culture, feeling that he was at a slight disadvantage not having played in the ultrarunning space before.

Balancing out that perceived disadvantage, he’s had the benefit of a very seasoned TPU veteran, Coach Thomas Mullins.  Thomas has been an invaluable resource, especially for questions about pack weight, gear and nutrition. The advice has worked well, as Jonathon reports his final pack weight is 17 pounds before water… an efficient weight for this event.

Newborn Photography

At the peak of Jonathan’s TPU training run-up, his baby daughter was born, so one might say that he is already pushing his limits.  The weekend of Diana’s birth was supposed to have been a 50-mile training workout, which he missed while accomplishing the greater goal of shepherding a new member into his family.

Jonathan works in IT operations in Austin, and he and his wife have another daughter, Clare.  Since the birth of the new baby, they have been slightly out of sync with their normal schedule, so it’s been an interesting run-up to race week.

Just prior to leaving for Alpine, Jonathon said he anticipates his biggest challenge at TPU will be to rein in a naturally competitive nature, and be alright with a relaxed pace.  He intends to fully utilize the water stations for rest, and pay close attention to his recovery routine in camp at night.

“LIKE” us on Facebook to get race reports next week and find out how Jonathan is passing his test.